George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Cooke, 25 April 1791

To William Cooke

Wilmington [N.C.] April 25th 1791.


In consequence of the fair representation which has been made to me of your character, I do hereby appoint you to the command of the Cutter, directed by an act of Congress, to be stationed for the protection of the revenue of the United States on the coast of the State of North Carolina.1

On application to the Secretary of the Treasury, which you will make immediately, you will be furnished with particular instructions and your commission.2 I am Sir, your most obedient Servant

G. Washington.


William Cooke of Wilmington commanded a privateer during the Revolutionary War. GW appointed him to command the revenue cutter Diligence, being fitted out for service in North Carolina waters. When subordinate officers were being selected for the cutter in 1792, Cooke recommended his own son, William Harrison Cooke, as third mate (John Daves to Alexander Hamilton, 17 July 1792, in Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 12:42).

1When GW’s party arrived at Wilmington, William Jackson asked North Carolina federal district attorney William Henry Hill (1767–1808) to make inquiries regarding appropriate men to command the revenue cutter for North Carolina. Hill replied to Jackson on 25 April that “Capt. Amaziah Jocelin or Capt. William Cook are both consider’d as proper men” (DLC:GW). Unaware that GW had already decided to appoint him to the command, Cooke petitioned Washington for the office on 27 April, noting that he had suffered financial reverses and had a “family of Small Children” to provide for and enclosing a certificate of his moral character and abilities as a seaman signed by nineteen men (DLC:GW). GW received at least two other applications for the cutter command. Lt. William Rickard (d. 1813), a native of Massachusetts, who served as an officer in the Continental army from 1777 until 1784, wrote him on 15 June from Washington, N.C., referring GW to William Blount, John Sitgreaves, and Richard Dobbs Spaight for recommendations (DLC:GW). Rickard later applied to GW for appointment as militia inspector and referred GW to Henry Knox and Henry Jackson for his “Military Character” (Rickard to GW, 8 Nov. 1791, DLC:GW). Rickard did not receive that appointment but was tendered an appointment as an infantry lieutenant in 1792 and was promoted to captain in 1794 (see GW to the U.S. Senate, 3 May 1792, 9 May 1794). Another application for the cutter command, dated 15 July, was submitted by Stephen Tinker, New Bern merchant captain, whose brief note referred GW for recommendations to former North Carolina governor Samuel Johnston, Spaight, James Iredell, and to the members of the North Carolina delegation to Congress (DLC:GW). Tinker received no appointment from GW.

2On 25 April Jackson wrote to Hamilton that upon inquiry of Thomas Kelly’s character, “it has been suggested that he is an intemperate man,” and that, “in consequence of the fair reputation” of Cooke, GW had determined to appoint Cooke captain of the North Carolina cutter; “he is directed to apply to you for his instructions, and his commission” (DLC:GW). For Thomas Kelly’s application, see GW to Hamilton, 8 Nov. 1790 and note 3. Hamilton later instructed Tobias Lear to fill in Cooke’s name on one of the blank commissions in the secretary’s possession (see Lear to GW, 29 May 1791, n.3).

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